Author: J.K. Rowling
It's Year 6 for Harry Potter at Hogwarts and, per usual, our hero has quite a lot going on. He is mourning the death of his godfather, killed right in front of him. He's pretty sure his nemesis, Draco Malfoy, is up to something but no one takes his concerns seriously. The Minister of Magic and the new potions teacher are both too eager to bask in his glory. His two best friends can't seem to get along, largely because only one of them realizes they're in love with each other. He has added responsibilities as Gryffindor's new quidditch captain. He's coming to terms with his own romantic feelings for Ginny, his best pal's sister. Oh, and the Dark Lord has made crystal clear that he wants to kill Harry.
Yes, I can see how it would all add up to a pretty stressful time.
This, the penultimate installment of the series, is a crucial one. With each new book, the narrative has darkened. Harry changes a lot, too. Frankly, it's hard to like him sometimes as he drifts deeply into his moody teenage years. I've always liked that aspect of the story. Rowling allows all of her characters to grow up realistically. Sometimes, in general, she lets Harry drift too close to perfection but she finds ways to pull him back into the believability range. His miserable behavior on dates is a good example of this. Early on in Half-Blood Prince, Harry has a rather unfortunate run in with Draco and definitely gets the worse end of it. While by the end of the story, Harry's suspicion is vindicated, in this particular instance it's hard not to feel that our man kind of had it coming. He was the one spying on a private conversation, after all.
Half-Blood Prince is an important book for three characters in particular: Ginny, Snape and, of course, Dumbledore.
!!! SPOILER ALERT !!!
As discussed previously, Ginny is my favorite character in the Potterverse. I love anyone who is disinclined to suffer the bullshit of others and Ginny even has some great moments putting Hermione in her place. Ginny and Harry finally find each other and while minimal text is devoted to the relationship once it finally happens, one can feel Harry settle into himself. It's wonderfully satisfying.
The Snape story is the hidden gem of the entire franchise and Year 6 is key. The confrontation between Snape and Harry at the end of the book is revealing - far more so than Harry can see himself in the moment. While Harry is firing spells at his soon to be former professor, Snape casually fends them off and taunts our man. Except that he isn't taunting. Snape is chastising him for everything he's failed to learn yet. He's still teaching Harry!!! That, my friends, is seriously badass.
The other bit Harry fails to grasp in the moment: at any point in the encounter, Snape could easily have killed him. But he didn't. Stay tuned.
Obviously, this is an essential Dumbledore story. The ending is important, of course, but more so is the vulnerability he shows to Harry up until that point. We all know Harry loves his headmaster. Now it's clear that he's been loved right back.
!!! END OF SPOILER !!!
On to Year 7, the final book of the original series. A lot of people don't like the way the HP story ends and I suppose I understand why. It's when the tale becomes, seemingly, just another quest adventure like so many other thousands. But I contend that it's different because of everything that comes before.
Year 7 is shrouded in a deep sadness, one earned through great loss - losses we've experienced along with the protagonist. This sadness separates Rowling's story from Tolkein's or Lewis's. In Middle Earth, the darkness is impending but it hasn't arrived yet. In the original Narnia story, there is a strong sense of what has been lost but we didn't experience the loss along with the characters. At Hogwarts, we've earned Harry's sadness and that makes all the difference.
Obviously, we'll talk about this more soon.